God’s Guidelines for the “Gray Areas” of Life: Wise Decision-Making in a Wicked World, Part 6

Ethical and moral decision-making presents a great challenge for devoted followers of Jesus in the 21st century context. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides helpful guidelines for navigating what could be called “the gray areas” of the Christian life.

These biblical principles are true anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. They are extremely helpful in leading us to be wise decision-makers as we live out a gospel-centered ethic.

9). Will this action honor my body which belongs to God?
Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body. – 1 Cor. 6:19-20

We touched on this principle in an earlier post, but let’s look at it again from a slightly different angle. In these verses Paul declares that we are not our own and have been bought with a price. Therefore, we should honor God in all we do with our bodies. Chuck Swindoll says our bodies are: 1) a physical extension of Christ, 2) a moral illustration of the Lord, and 3) a spiritual habitation of God. John Piper says 6 things are true because Jesus bought your body:

1) God is for the body not against it. 2) The body is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. 3) The body will be resurrected from the dead. 4) The body is not to be mastered by anything but Christ. 5) The body is not to be used for any immorality. 6) The body is to be used for the glory of God. What is the result? “Use your body in ways that will show that God is more satisfying, more precious, more to be desired, more glorious than anything the body craves” (John Piper, “You Were Bought with a Price”). I don’t know about you, but I like this. Use my body to show how satisfying God is? Now that’s a life in the body worth living!

10). Will this action glorify God?
Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for God’s glory. – 1 Cor. 10:31

This climatic and over-arching principle has been called “the joyful duty of man.” It is right in its God-focus for He is the most beautiful and valuable person in the entire universe. It is right in its human perspective for it makes clear why we are here: to live for God’s glory. John Piper is right: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him!” (John Piper, Desiring God, 9). No part of life is exempt from this principle. It is comprehensive and it is satisfying! So, seek His glory, and do it with passion!

Putting Our Ten Principles into Practice
When making ethical choices, world Christians will not wed their cultural and personal preferences to the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will vigorously keep them separate and distinct. They will not insist on their rights or their special interest that could cloud the beauty and purity of the gospel. How can a devoted Christ follower stand beneath the cross of their Savior and insist on their rights? To give up our rights for the spiritual and eternal blessing of others will be a joy and not a burden. It is our calling in Christ (Mark 10:35-45).

How will this influence the way we live as Christians? I believe the following theological paradigm applied to the Corinthian correspondence can give us some additional guidelines to consider. Several years ago, when I served at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, my good friend Al Mohler and I often discussed how the church should worship. He developed the following model that also provides insight for how the church should live out the gospel in today’s cultural context.

A Theological Paradigm for Being the Body of Christ

Bad Church (Christian)

+ Good Way

+ Good Church (Christian)

+ Good Way

Bad Church (Christian)

Bad Way

+ Good Church (Christian)

– Bad Way

Obviously, we want to be in the top box on the right. We want to be a good Christian in a good way. It is not difficult to discern a good Christian, because we have a perfect manual called the Bible to instruct and guide us. We can go to the counsel of the Old and New Testaments and discover God’s ideas for gospel ethics. Some things are non-negotiables. Some things are transparent. However, being a good Christian in a good way is not always as easy to discover. The good way is more subjective in nature. Cultural context plays a significant role at this point. There are many gray areas in life that are not always clear. How can we discover the good way? I believe the ten principles found in the Corinthian correspondence, provide tremendous help. Complementing them with six affirmations or axioms that take into consideration our 4-fold paradigm, I believe we can gain some insight into how we can find the “good way.”

Six Guiding Axioms for Finding the “Good Way”

  1. Love will regulate liberty.
  2. Love will rein in legalism.
  3. That which detracts from the gospel will be avoided.
  4. That which distracts from the gospel will be avoided.
  5. Follow the witness principle.
  6. Follow the wisdom principle.

In my last article in this series I will present a test case in which we can apply these principles. I suspect it will get your attention: the issue of alcohol.

God’s Guidelines for the “Gray Areas” of Life: Wise Decision-Making in a Wicked World, Part 5

Ethical and moral decision-making presents a great challenge for devoted followers of Jesus in the 21st century context. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides helpful guidelines for navigating what could be called “the gray areas” of the Christian life.

These biblical principles are true anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. They are extremely helpful in leading us to be wise decision-makers as we live out a gospel-centered ethic.

7). Will this action follow the pattern of the life of Jesus?
Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ. – 1 Cor. 11:1

To be like Jesus should be the goal of every Christian’s life. By God’s grace someday we will be (Rom. 8: 28-30; 1 John 3:1-3). However, until that day arrives, we should strive to imitate Him in all things with a holy passion and blazing zeal.

A while back I was listening to a lecture by N.T. Wright. As he raised the issue of Christian ethics he noted that a number of his British friends had poked fun at and dismissed the silly, shallow American phenomena of the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelet. However, he then went on to note that several of his children were now making their pilgrimage through the teenage years. Suddenly, he did not find WWJD concept to be a silly and shallow consideration at all. In fact, he rather hoped his children might adopt such an ethic in this post-modern, anything and everything goes culture of the West. Of course, it is essential to KWJD (Know What Jesus Did) if asking WWJD is going to be of any benefit. In other words, this gospel-centered, Christ-centered ethic requires an immersion in the Scriptures. To live like Jesus you must know Jesus! To live like Jesus you must love Jesus.

Now, let me ask a question that should convict us all, myself being at the front of the line. If others imitate me, will they in some real and genuine sense be imitating Christ? To say it another way, can your children put on their wrist a WWDD bracelet (What Would Daddy Do?) or a WWMD bracelet (What Would Mother Do?)? They should be able to, shouldn’t they?!

8). Will this action show love to others?
If I speak the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am a sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so that I can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing. – 1 Cor. 13:1-3

Love is a magnet that draws others to Christ. It is also the fulcrum that balances freedom and responsibility, theology and moral behavior in the Christian life. If our actions are not grounded in love, it does not matter what we say, how much we know or even what we do. Love cannot be prostituted! D. A. Carson is helpful in assessing this balancing act:

Strong Christians may be right on a theological issue, but unless they voluntarily abandon what is in fact their right they will do damage to the church and thus “sin against Christ” (8:12). To stand on your rights may thus involve you in sin after all-not the sin connected with your rights (there, after all, you are right!), but the sin of lovelessness, the sin of being unwilling to forgo your rights for the spiritual and eternal good of others (Carson, The Cross and the Christian Ministry, 125).

I also like what John MacArthur says this crucial point:

Now a Christian who is truly well-rounded, positive, and effective, thinks and acts in two ways: conceptually and relationally. He has the ability to understand concepts and communicate to people. He has knowledge plus love and this is the way it should be in the church. Our knowledge needs to be balanced with love. The great fear is that with all our knowledge we would not have love and would therefore wind up being nothing. We have to be conceptual and relational. I think that in the name of liberty some of modern-day Christianity has violated the conscience of weaker brothers and created division in the body. Variations in behavior are the major cause of division in the body, not variations in doctrine. These variations in behavior are not even necessary since we could restrict our liberty for the sake of the weaker brother and create unity. We must make sure that love is the response to knowledge (MacArthur, Giving Up to Gain, 13).

Liberty regulated and guided by love for God and others in many ways summarized the 10 principles we are examining. Placing others ahead of myself, even at personal sacrifice and loss, is the way of Christ, the way of the cross, the way of love. It may involve short-term loss, but long-term gain. It may cause us to suffer now, but be blessed forever. This is not really a difficult call to make, is it?adventure games for boys

God’s Guidelines for the “Gray Areas” of Life: Wise Decision-Making in a Wicked World, Part 4

Ethical and moral decision-making presents a great challenge for devoted followers of Jesus in the 21st century context. In 1 Corinthians Paul provides helpful guidelines for navigating what could be called “the gray areas” of the Christian life.

These biblical principles are true anywhere, anytime and under any circumstances. They are extremely helpful in leading us to be wise decision-makers as we live out a gospel-centered ethic.

5). Is this action consistent with my new life in Christ?
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: no sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexuals, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. Some of you were like this; but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Cor. 6:9-11

Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own… – 1 Cor. 6:19

Followers of Jesus are brand new creatures. We are now temples of the Holy Spirit corporately (1 Cor. 3:16) and individually (1 Cor. 6:19). One aspect of this “newness” is that we honor God and bring Him glory in our bodies (1Cor. 6:20). This is a Pauline way of saying glorify God all the time in every way with all that you are. Body, mind, will, and emotions are all to be brought under His Lordship and control. Unfortunately, we sometimes forget this and tragic consequences follow. Christ is hidden rather than displayed in our lives. Let me illustrate. Sometimes in our desire to communicate the gospel clearly and without unnecessary baggage, we go too far and actually miscommunicate the message and send an uncertain sound. To gain a hearing from our “cultural despisers” we adjust our vocabulary, compromise purity and holiness, and we are reckless with what we do with our bodies and thereby cloud or even hide the glorious gospel that transforms and changes life. German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg in a First Things article entitled, “How to Think About Secularism” provides needed words of wisdom in this context:

The absolutely worst way to respond to the challenge of secularism is to adapt to secular standards in language, thought, and way of life. If members of a secularist society turn to religion at all, they do so because they are looking for something other than what that culture already provides. It is counter productive to offer them religion in a secular mode that is carefully trimmed in order not to offend their secular sensibilities.

Christians should not shy away from the fact that our lives are centered on the divine things. We offer a different way of making sense of reality and a different way of living, which go against the grain of what modern society offers as the norm. We also should not shy away from referring to the wrath of God against human sin even though most moderns ignore, disbelieve, or sweeten the pill with deceptions about God’s complaisance over sin (Wolfhart Pannenberg, “How to Think About Secularism,” First Things 64 (June/July 1996), 31).

Tim Keller wisely informs us, “All of our personal problems and church problems come because we don’t come continually back to the gospel to work it out and live it out….Christians are enormously bold to tell the truth, but without a shred of superiority [remember 6:9-11!], because you are sinners saved by grace. The balance of boldness and utter humility, truth and love-is not somewhere in the middle between legalistic fundamentalism and relativistic liberalism. It is actually off the charts” (Tim Keller, “Being the Church in Our Culture”). When considering how to live for Christ in the 21st century, our new life demands that we proclaim and live the message with great boldness, holiness and humility. We are to live a life that is in harmony with who we are as new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

6). Will this action violate my conscience?
Eat everything that is sold in the meat market, asking no questions for conscience’ sake, for the earth is the Lord’s, and all that is in it. If one of the unbelievers invites you over and you want to go, eat everything that is set before you, without raising questions of conscience. But if someone says to you,” This is food offered to an idol,” do not eat it, out of consideration for the one who told you, and for conscience’ sake. I do not mean your own conscience, but the other person’s. For why is my freedom judged by another person’s conscience? – 1 Cor. 10:25-29

It is risky, even dangerous, to ignore the inner voice of conscience. It is God-given and under redemptive-reconstruction thru the Spirit, Word and fellowship of the Christian community. A well-informed, Scripture-saturated, Spirit-sensitive conscience will be an asset in warning us of things that are sinful, evil, and unwise.

Now, I do not think Paul would say, “Let your conscience be your guide,” as if conscience by itself is a sufficient umpire or arbitrator when it comes to good decision-making. Rather he would say, “Let your conscience guided by Scripture and controlled by love be your guide.” This will involve some tension in your lifestyle preferences, but it will also result in God conforming you more to the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5). We must get used to living with this tension. While most would love for every decision to be crystal clear (I certainly would!), that is naïve and simplistic. It would also stunt spiritual growth and maturity as we grow in Christ. Thus, Christians must know what is going on in their own cultural context. The internal voice of a believer’s conscience can be a great aid when guided by Scripture and controlled by the ethic of love. It can give you peace in what you are doing and joy in the doing. Romans 14:23 reminds us, “Whatever is not from faith is sin.” Living with a clear conscience before Christ and others is a worthy goal for all of us to pursue.